By Tom Tracy | Catholic News Service
MIAMI (CNS) — One month after the tragic Surfside condo collapse there is seemingly a heaviness at the ever-evolving “wall of remembrance” near the site where the building once stood.
The scene was not made lighter by 4 p.m., late-July sunshine reflecting off the concrete sidewalk.
The array of flags, candles, photos, handwritten notes, stuffed animals and wilting flowers — even a new Texas-based artist’s mural — at the makeshift memorial speaks to the varied lives of some 97 victims who have reportedly been identified through DNA analysis and other means.
The final chunks of rubble from the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South building were cleared away the week of July 19 and are reportedly being stored and examined off site for further evidence and human remains.
On July 21, two more victim names were taken off the missing list, bring the total of those confirmed dead to 97. It was reported the same week that at least one of the Surfside victim’s remains have not been located or identified.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a statement July 21 that it had become increasingly challenging to identify victims, and that the effort was relying heavily on the work of the medical examiner’s office and the scientific, technical process of identifying human remains.
“Thanks to the diligent and incredibly thorough work of our first responders and debris handling teams, the building collapse site has been mostly cleared and debris relocated to the evidentiary debris collection site near the airport,” Cava said.
“The first responders are now conducting additional searches of the debris at the collection site, as we continue to do everything we can to search as thoroughly as possible for any remains to bring closure to families,” she added. “We are continuing to search with enormous care and diligence and to work closely hand-in-hand with faith leaders as we have since the beginning of this process.”
Teams also are continuing to recover personal property and religious artifacts and are following careful collection and tagging protocols, she added.
The June 24 collapse brought national attention to the town of Surfside, which is north of Miami Beach, and its vibrant ethnic and religious mix of residents, tourists and short-term visitors who lost their lives in the late-night tragedy.
Video showing the building’s collapse in the early morning hours of June 24 and the subsequent news footage of the rubble brought to mind scenes of 9/11. And as with 9/11, there is already a public discussion underway locally about what comes next for Surfside.
Some community and business leaders have been calling for a permanent memorial of the sort that now graces 9/11’s “ground zero” in New York, while others, including some of the survivors of the collapse, have expressed a wish to resume living in a rebuilt condo on the same site.
Others have suggested some sort of blend of the two concepts, including an offer to place the memorial nearby in an oceanfront park in Miami Beach.
A Florida judge is reportedly considering what should be done with the property and how to compensate the victims’ families from the limited insurance funds available.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman reportedly said at a recent public hearing the victims and families who suffered losses will share in a minimum of $150 million in compensation initially: $50 million in insurance on the Champlain Towers South building and an expected $100 million in proceeds from the sale of the property.
A new owner’s committee will provide input on what will happen to the property, the judge added.
Meanwhile, the town of Surfside was working with its neighbor to the north, the Village of Bal Harbour, to host a beachfront classical music commemorative concert July 25 featuring the South Florida Symphony Orchestra and honoring the neighboring community of Surfside.
The names of the victims were to be read at the end of the musical program, accompanied by a live butterfly release.